Costa Rica is an adventure travel mecca, and canyoneering is a super-fun activity. Many commercial canyoneering trips are available there, but two continually continue to come to the top – Lost Canyon and Gravity Falls. The question is, which is better? We’ll provide enough information for you to make a reasonably informed choice to do one, both, or neither.
Lost Canyon Canyoneering: An Introduction
Lost Canyon sits just outside the Costa Rica adventure travel mecca of Fortuna. Every visit to Lost Canyon starts at the Ops Center, where you get your gear before you head up the mountain. The trip design has you traveling down canyon from the drop off back to Ops Center. It’s a through trip, so you are committed to finishing it once you start. The only obstacle that can be bypassed easily is a little jump and downclimb section, which is perfect for adventurous couples traveling together. In our case, Jenn’s knees kept her from doing the jump.
Our safety briefing focused on rappelling techniques and letting go of the rope on guided rappels/zips. For the big drops, they use the rope to steer you away from the pools at the bottom of the falls. More about this later, because it’s a unique feature to Lost Canyon that Gravity Falls doesn’t offer.
Lost Canyon gets you thoroughly wet and requires the use of ropes. The guides will control your descent if needed or desired. You spend a lot of time walking in the canyon (as opposed to swimming). It’s a little slippery and still a bit cold. If you have a 1mm neoprene shirt that might help keep the heat in during spring and winter.
After our experience, we hung out at the Ops Center and enjoyed a tasty lunch of beans, rice, and chicken (it is Costa Rica). They pointed out their resident sloth living in his tree, so we did some animal watching too. A picnic at the ops center was an excellent reward for challenging the canyon.
Entering Lost Canyon
Traveling through Lost Canyon is part nature walk, part introduction to Canyoneering. You do a little jungle hiking, rappelling, and an occasional rappel zip combo. We started with a short 10-minute jungle hike to travel down to the stream bed and then proceeded to wade down the stream in knee-deep water. It was invigorating and removed any pretense of staying dry on the trip.
We didn’t travel far in the stream before we reached our first rappel, which turned out to be the hardest obstacle in the canyon. It’s very short, only 10′ or so, but the anchor point for the rope is placed over the platform. You have to make a little dynamic move to clear the edge of the platform. A couple of people in our big adventure travel group had difficulty with this.
The Biggest Rappels in Lost Canyon
Immediately after the initial drop is one of two big (100′) rappels in Lost Canyon. It’s not a pure rappel, but the rappel/zip combo we spoke of earlier. The rappel/zip feature distinguishes Lost Canyon from Gravity Falls, for better or worse.
On the two biggest waterfalls, you only rappel the first 50′ or so. Then, you let go of the rope an slide down and across the pool beneath the falls. It’s almost a zip line and pretty fun. It also means that you don’t have to / get to make a big rappel, depending on your point of view. The anchor points for these big drops are intuitively placed, so you are immediately weighting the rope without having to do anything tricky.
A little farther down canyon, there was a section where you jump into a small plunge pool and downclimb some rocks. Jenn opted out of this because of her knees, and it didn’t complicate or diminish the trip in any way. It’s right after that section where we shot this video of us getting thoroughly drenched.
Lost Canyon Summary
Lost Canyon had steady adventure mixed throughout the trip and a great way to get used to rappelling. If you are comfortable on rope, you will not have that big “pucker factor.” It’s more of a fun cruise through a jungle stream, which isn’t a bad way to spend a day, or rather, a half day because Lost Canyon is so conveniently located near Fortuna.
Gravity Falls Waterfall Jumping: An Introduction
First off, kudos to Desafio for coming up with a creative name. This trip is just canyoneering with the option to make jumps instead of rappels. The ironic part is that you never jump over waterfalls. The name might be branding at its best, but the adventure is still real and intense.
Gravity Falls is a little farther outside of Arenal near a town called Florencia. There are combo tickets available for both Lost Canyon and Gravity Falls that allow you to book multiple adventures in one day. This combo could be a great option to mitigate the logistics of reaching Gravity Falls. Desafio even offers a triple threat package where they combine Gravity Falls with mountain biking and white water rafting to make sure you get your thrill on.
You realize the different flavor of these two adventures on the drive in, but it becomes apparent with the infrastructure at the start of the canyon. Lost Canyon has the Ops Center for the entry point. Gravity Falls has a picnic shelter next to a cow pasture. It just feels more like an authentic adventure.
The Gravity Falls Experience
From the parking area, you hike about 20 minutes to the canyon. You quickly come to a big waterfall and rappel down it. It’s a big beautiful drop into a pool of water. Yup, you drop off the rope and with a splash. The bottom pool was one of the most beautiful places we saw in Costa Rica. We felt like we rappelled onto the set of Jurrasic Park.
We walked around the big pool and made our first jump. It’s about a 10′ jump into a deep pool. Jenn downclimbed easy enough. Once you’re in the water, you swim about 100′ downstream. Most of the people opted to climb up a side waterfall and then jump back into the stream, but it was an entirely optional side trip.
Can You Get Hurt at Gravity Falls?
Next came one of two obstacles I got a little scraped up on. It was just a rope swing with a drop into a shallow pool, but I didn’t let go of the rope cleanly. Not a big deal and part of the fun. (The other obstacle was ants on the way out. Everybody got a bite or two.)
Gravity Falls has the promise of extreme adventure with tighter ages restrictions (16-55 years old) than Lost Canyon (13-60 years old). There is also a distinction about fitness level. Lost Canyon asks that you be in good shape, but Gravity Falls suggests athletic and physically fit. Bottom line – Gravity Falls pushes your limits more than Lost Canyon.
How Big is the Jump at Gravity Falls?
After the swing came the one we have all been waiting for, the big 35′ jump at the end. There are 10-meter high dive towers at the Olympics, so this is a safe distance if you do it right. But there is that if. I made a conscious effort to look straight ahead and walk right off the plank. Doing this kept my body in alignment. I also made sure to cross my feet and arms, so nothing was hanging out to splash – Pura Vida!
The final jump is optional. You jump from a platform and climb back up to the same place. It’s super fun but entirely optional. You can even opt to do it multiple time. In all, about a 1/3 of our group of adventurers chose not to make the jump, and only a couple of people did it more than once.
The verdict – Lost Canyon or Gravity Falls?
The biggest adrenaline rush from on our Costa Rica trip came from Gravity Falls. We had some big thrills to like Sky Trek Zip Line, and white water rafting on the Sarapiqui River but choosing to jump off a 35′ tower raised the stakes to a higher level.
Gravity Falls was also a lot more private, and in my opinion, more beautiful (but both were really nice). If felt like an authentic experience. Desafio proclaims Gravity Falls as Costa Rica’s Most Extreme Tour while Lost Canyon’s tagline is a great place to learn the ropes. That’s a great way to sum up the two experiences. Both were great ways to do a little rappelling, see some nature, and experience canyoneering in Costa Rica. (note: videos provided by Desafio)